Cruise launches Origin autonomous electric ride-share shuttle
A future where people are transported around cities and urban areas without having to so much as touch a steering wheel is getting ever closer. Vehicles that can drive themselves have already moved from limited campus trials to public roads. And it won't be too long before hailing a self-driving ride-share pod for the trip to work will be the done thing. Startup Cruise has revealed its vision for just such an autonomous shuttle – the Origin.
Though not a particularly common sight, self-driving cars have been rolling themselves around city streets across the globe for a while now. Earlier this month, Waymo announced that its fleet had clocked up a total of 20 million real-world miles on public roads.
One of the cities which Waymo has been testing its self-driving cars is San Francisco, where Cruise has also been active, running fleets of autonomous vehicles that last year managed to drive on nearly every road in the city, while adding nearly a million miles to the company's collective odometer and gathering masses of data.
That info is used to train the AI-based system to cope with whatever the driving world throws at it. In fact, Cruise is confident that its technology as it stands is capable of getting its self-driving vehicles coast to coast across the US without incident.
But rather than just push out another car-like autonomous vehicle, the mobility startup – which is backed by General Motors and Honda, among others – "wanted to re-imagine transportation as if the car had never existed."
"So, we removed the engine," wrote the company's Dan Ammann in a blog post. "We removed the driver – who, more often than not, is tired, distracted, frustrated, and rushed. We removed the equipment that’s there to support the driver, including the steering wheel, pedals, rear-view mirrors, windshield wipers, and cramped seats." The result is the Cruise Origin, an all-electric ride-share vehicle designed to drive itself.
It has the look of a microbus, but is reported to have a similar footprint to a modern "average car" and, because it doesn't include any of the technology needed by a human driver, there's lots of space inside.
Passengers book their ride via a mobile app. Once the Origin drives itself to the pickup point, the customer enters through sliding doors that open wide enough so that one person can hop aboard while another is getting out. Seating for four (or six at a push) is positioned front and back, so passengers face each other, and there's plenty of legroom.
The vehicle runs on an all-electric platform from General Motors, with built-in redundancy to guard against breakdowns – particularly important as there will be no human driver to take over. Cruise hasn't revealed any performance specs, such as per charge range, and hasn't given too much away about the onboard sensor suite in play either. It likely features the usual batch of cameras and LiDAR, but the Origin also has swiveling sensor pods on its roof that will allow the electric people mover to work night or day, whatever the weather.
And it's expected that the Origin will spend most of its working life on the move, in contrast to our current car usage model where vehicles spend much of their time parked up. Cruise estimates that the vehicle will be good for over a million miles before it starts to even think about retiring, thanks to a modular design where components can be upgraded or repaired when needed or when new technology is available.
The mobility startup hasn't revealed a production timeframe, or any cost figures, but it has managed to attract US$7.25 billion in capital from the likes of GM, Honda, SoftBank and T. Rowe Price, so it looks like we'll be seeing much more of the Origin autonomous ride-share in the near future.
A quick overview of the launch event can be seen in the video below.